Monday, April 02, 2007

Canon G7: To Buy Or Not To Buy?

The new 10 mega pixel Canon G7 has caught my eye of late, and recently my friend Jemma visited and brought one along with her so I got a chance to play with it. Many people believed that Canon would cull the G line of prosumer cameras to push people towards either their entry level SLR cameras, or their smaller snappy devices, but instead Canon announced this new entry. Previously the G line has never interested me, as the body form was pretty bulky, but the new body is much slimmer and incredibly light, albeit still quite chunky, so now I'm re-considering. Plus the other day a professional photographer recommended this camera over the Canon 20D, which is pretty surprising. So I've decided to put some thoughts into whether or not I should 'side-grade' to the Canon G7

For my purposes, I'm looking at the Canon G7 to replace my Canon S70 - the camera I always carry with me 'just in case' something catches my eye. To that end I have a fairly good set of criteria to apply:

  • Small enough to easily carry around, ideally in my jeans pocket. I want the camera to be there for me when I need it, not so bulky that I leave it at home and can be snuck into band gigs where they don't like cameras so much.
  • Full control of lens functions. The automatic features of cameras are getting better all the time, but often I know what I'm trying to do and just need to tell the camera to do it.
  • Excellent low light features. As my 'smaller' camera, the G7 would need to handle bar and gig photos well without needing to resort to flash. Or if flash was being used then it needs to be controllable.
  • Not too expensive. This is almost my 'disposable' camera, as I need to feel comfortable taking it to places that it may get damaged.
  • Feels good in the hand and is not too invasive. For more candid shots out and about it's good to have a camera that isn't too much like a professional camera as people react better towards it.

There are some other criteria that help, such as supporting compact flash (CF) since I have a lot of CF cards already, but these are not show stoppers. So how does the Canon G7 perform?

My first impression of the Canon G7 is that it feels pretty plasticky. The S70 is a solid, heavy-ish camera, but the G7 is surprisingly light. The body is purportedly made of metal but it doesn't feel like it is which makes me a bit nervous given how much abuse I give my cameras. Also, some weight in the camera helps you brace it for low-light shots. Overall the form of the camera is pretty boxy - the corners are smoothed off which is good, but something about the camera reminds me of an old school, pre-product designer mentality. This might not be a bad thing, but it's always important to me for a camera to feel good in your hands. In terms of size, the camera is a pretty tight fit for a jeans pocket assuming it gets in there at all. On the plus side the lens is covered by an automatic shutter, but that could be a bit flimsy if you're not careful. From a lens perspective, the camera fires up and auto-focusses quickly - allowing you to grab those unexpected images.

The control aspect of the Canon G7 is top notch. Full manual control with aperture & shutter speed adjustments. You can also push the ISO right up to 1600 in normal programmable modes, and to 3200 in a special low light 'scene' mode (not necessarily recommended as the noise is quite intense and the picture size is reduced). The scene modes themselves are extremely powerful and easily accessed by the control dial on the back of the camera. There are many low light settings, as well as the now commmon snow & underwater modes. Another great feature is that the ISO selection is given it's own dial on top of the camera for quick changes. One key feature kept from the earlier G range is a flash hot-shoe on top of the camera, so most of Canon's flashes work with this camera.

The image display on the back of the camera is large. To my mind a bit too large! I think this is just my prejudice, but it seems to be so crammed in there that for some reason the extra size seems a disadvantage. Also the colour of the screen display seemed a bit off, but it's hard to tell how much of that was the auto white balance kicking in. The viewfinder is even more cramped than usual, which in low light will be a bit of a pain, although that's only a small part of the usage.

Some final observations: The lens only goes to 35mm, I tend to prefer a 28mm wide angle so everything seemed a bit off to me. You can attach telephoto extenders to the lens mount which is interesting if a bit gimicky. One important note: this camera does not support RAW images! - Canon are definately pushing you towards the SLRs if you want the ability to fully post process your images, but in most situations this won't matter.

Overall the camera is very interesting, and also reasonably priced (available for under $500 at present). Do I think it should replace my Canon S70? That I'm not so sure of. The extra low light flexibility is very compelling, as the S70 has really not been up to par in this area. The scene modes allow you to rapidly set the camera to meet your needs with a user interface that is intuitive and powerful. Things that put me off right now; it is still a bit large, it would require me to transition to SD cards from CF and I worry that without a proper case the lens cover would bend & break. The lack of RAW is annoying, but not a show stopper, and being able to attach your own flash opens a world of opportunities. For now, I'm not going to change, but I'll be interested to see how Canon evolves their other camera lines Canon given their changes here.

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